Why the first five minutes of exercise is the hardest

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Changing into gym gear, tying your hair up and putting joggers on is already enough effort, so why does the first five minutes of exercise also have to be so damn hard?

If you struggle to run for longer than five minutes, or are panting for breath after a quick bike ride, don’t worry – you’re not alone.

According our Health and Fitness expert, Luke Horder, the first five minutes of exercise is always the hardest simply because our bodies aren’t getting enough oxygen.

What does oxygen have to do with it?

When you work out, your muscles contract to make movements, and for these movements to occur, those muscles need access to plenty of oxygen.

“The harder the exercise, the more oxygen the body needs,” says Luke.

During the first five minutes of exercise, the body doesn’t take in the amount of oxygen required to move the body faster or work more muscles. So instead, the body relies on two energy systems (ATP-PC and the anaerobic glycolysis system) to supply energy without needing oxygen.

What happens after the five minutes?

If you keep moving, your body will slowly catch up to oxygen demand. After approximately three to five minutes, the body will switch from its previous energy systems to the aerobic energy system, which is more efficient at supplying oxygen.

“It’s as simple as reaching a steady state (three minutes). Then, your oxygen will flow around your body, your blood will pump faster and your muscles will get into the rhythm of contracting, and the exercise will become comfortable,” says Luke. 

What can I do to help?

“Unfortunately, in terms of exercising there are no shortcuts,” says Luke. “But the more you train your body to do a particular exercise, the more efficient it will be at meeting the oxygen demand.”

Here’s what to do to make the first five minutes of working out more bearable:

1. Don’t start exercising at too high an intensity. By doing that, you’ll create more demand for oxygen than necessary.

2. Start slow, and build up progressively over the course of three to five minutes. Give your body a chance to adjust to the idea of exercising after being at rest.  

3. To amp up your workout, incorporate more muscles. For example, begin by walking, then start swinging your arms more. Look for some inclines on the road, and when you feel ready, try a light shuffle. 

4. Wait at least two minutes before attempting a jog.

5. If you progress too quickly, slow down to a jog or a walk and let your body catch up again. Then once you feel comfortable, try to progress again. 

Do you find the first five minutes of exercise to be the hardest? How do you get past it?



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